Last year Google introduced a web based word processor. Then, they added a spreadsheet and called the package Google Docs. Today, they announced that they bought a presentation service to add presentations to Google Docs. The biggest issue with this, and any of the multitude of web services that Google has been introducing over the years, is the fact that since both the applications and your data are online, you always need to be connected to make use of them. Many media sources dismissed them as useless.
Yet recently a little product got introduced under the radar to the developers community by Google called Google Gears, and I believe this is the tipping point where everything culminates to. It allows any online service to be cached locally, used offline, and then synchronized when a connection becomes available. Suddenly, all those web based applications become available at all times. And that implies a lot of cool things.
First, as web services get improved, all users have access to the latest version instantly, for free. That’s a major bonus since you no longer have the need to push security updates to people, and software no longer compromises the stability or speed of the local desktop since it’s all running on the remote server.
Second, and perhaps most important, since it all uses open web standards, it’s not restricted to a platform. While a word processor, presentation application or feed reader would typically need to be developed for every operating system you want to run it on, it’s all available on the web and every computer or device with a full web browser can access it online. Then, all you have to do is port Google Gears, and instantly all the web services become available on that platform offline too.
It doesn’t take much to envision what plans Google may have. They have always been active in the mobile space, so we can easily see all their web resources becoming available on mobile platforms. They are working closely with Apple so it may appear first on the iPhone, but Google always went for open standards in the past so they would introduce it to all mobile devices. This is also why things like Opera Mini 4, which provides the full web to any Java cellphone, is so important.
Just think what the future may look like. You go on your Apple desktop in the morning, access your text documents, presentations, read your news, watch your online photos and reply to your email. Then on the road during your commute you get your Windows Mobile smartphone and instantly have access to all of the same data and can work on it with an interface customized for the smaller screen. And once at work, you log on your Linux work computer, and your data is right there, waiting for you. No syncing needed, no need to transfer or convert documents around, everything always available regardless of the platform you use.
The future is truly web centric, and in that kind of future, what becomes important is the web services and web browser, and not which operating system you use, what desktop application you need to buy or which file formats you need to convert.